The formula was developed by Harvard University mathematicians who've studied 1,200 years of the English language's evolution -- from "Beowulf" to "Canterbury Tales" to "Harry Potter."
Professor Martin Nowak, Erez Lieberman, Jean-Baptiste Michel, and colleagues in Harvard's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics view linguistic development as essentially an evolutionary scheme: Just as genes and organisms undergo natural selection, words -- specifically, irregular verbs that do not take an "-ed" ending in the past tense -- are subject to powerful pressure to "regularize" as the language develops.
"Mathematical analysis of this linguistic evolution reveals that irregular verb conjugations behave in an extremely regular way -- one that can yield predictions and insights into the future stages of a verb's evolutionary trajectory," said Lieberman, a graduate student in applied mathematics. "We measured something no one really thought could be measured, and got a striking and beautiful result."
The study is detailed in the current issue of the journal Nature.